Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Book Bite - A Couple of Fairy Tales

It's that time again! Time for another Book Bite! Several of the books I've been drawn to lately, unbeknownst to me when I first picked them up off the bookshelf, have ended up being Young Adult fiction. The last two books I've read recently are no exception. As an added bonus, they were both fairy tales (one of my favorite genres).

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie was a joyful read. It is about a father, who is a storyteller by trade, and his son. The father loses his ability to tell stories so his little boy goes on a journey to the magical sea of stories to help his father get his stories back. This symbolic world is filled with water genies, talking water lilies, mechanical birds and strange fish which, in some ways, are reminiscent of the inhabitants of Alice's Wonderland. All of these creatures serve a different purpose to help keep the sea of stories alive and to dispense the magical waters (i.e. stories) to storytellers everywhere through magical plumbing. Like any good fairy tale, there has to be a bad guy. In this story, the evil villain is out to pollute the sea of stories so that the world will be silent and no stories will be told ever again. There is also a princess or two, an epic battle and a happy ending.

This story was fresh and unlike anything I've read as far as style goes. The narrative voice was warm and fun; like having your favorite uncle tell you a story and giving you sly winks and nudges when he tells a particularly funny part. The story was written with a wonderful humor that made me smile with every turn of the page. I loved Rushdie's playful use of puns and archetypes. For example, the villain's name is "The End" - how perfect is that? What I loved the most about this story though, is that it was a fairy tale which, in and of itself, was about the lost art of telling fairy tales. It had a lot to say about storytelling as an art and how it connects us to each other in the telling, as well as connects us to our culture. Yet at the same time, the story was doing the very thing it was commenting on. Too cool!

I had a very limited knowledge of Salman Rushdie prior to reading this book. I vaguely remembered hearing about him in the news awhile back and knew him only as an author that had received death threats for writing a book called Satanic Verses. That was about it. After reading this book, and loving it so much, I went online to see what other people were saying about the book and to look up his other works and learn more about the author. I discovered, much to my surprise, that all the reviewers were talking about how political the message of Haroun was. I suspect that a previous knowledge about Salman Rushdie and his political and controversial nature had colored these readers' perceptions of the book, because after reading the book myself, then reading these reviews, I still couldn't see it. I thought it was a sweet, charming and sincere fairy tale and an homage or love letter of sorts to the joy of writing and telling stories. The book is dedicated, in a sweet little bit of prose, to Rushdie's son. Sometimes a fairy tale is just a fairy tale, and this is one I wouldn't mind reading again.

The other fairy tale story I read, which was also Young Adult fiction, was Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman. Being a new and avid fan of Neil Gaiman, I've started reading his online journal, which is entertaining all on its own. As a regular reader of his journal, I followed Gaiman has he blogged about all the ups and downs he went through to write Odd, including little anecdotes like the selection of the cover art. (Here's a link to all those blog entries. You'll have to read from the bottom up.) It was enlightening to be allowed in on the author's process. However, it was an especially weird and surreal sensation when I was actually holding that completed book in my hands. This novellette was written for World Book Day in the United Kingdom, where schoolchildren are given a token which they can redeem for a book. The books they can choose from are donated by the authors and their publishing houses (i.e. no money is made on the sale of the books). This particular story is targeted towards a younger audience than perhaps Haroun and it was a very quick read, but I still enjoyed it.

Odd is a young Norse boy who runs away from home during the longest winter Norway has ever seen. He teams up with some talking woodland creatures: a bear, a fox and an eagle, and journeys to Asgard, the city of the gods, to outwit the Frost Giants and free his land from the never ending winter. As I said, I really enjoyed the story as the fun little adventure it was. However, I feel like I would have been able to enjoy it a little bit more if I had more of a knowledge of Norse mythology. Several times I felt like I wasn't "in" on the joke. So, of course, I promptly went to and placed a couple of Norse fairy tale books into my wish list. I can't believe it is one branch of fairy tales that I haven't explored yet.


raven said...

D. L. both of these books sound like a must read for me!!! Thanks so much for the review. Exploring new fairy tales sound right up my alley and you know how I love Young Adult Fiction. I am reading another book off your "book bites" list that you had reviewed: The Town That Forgot How to Breathe. It is scary....

D.L. White said...

I think you would really like both of these books too. I'll be anxious to hear what you think about The Town that Forgot How to Breathe. :)

Anonymous said...

I finished the Odd book. Good story, with Gaiman's typical wit only slightly muted. It didn't quite have the struggle I would have liked (the resolution was pretty easy for our hero), but I had read some Norse mythology as a kid (go vikings!!!) and I liked that aspect very much. - Chad

D.L. White said...

Yes - I forgot to mention that. I agree that the "struggle" was non-existent and the resolution was waaay too easy. That's cool that you enjoyed the Norse stuff. I figured you would. :-)

chandy said...

So I'm going on vacation next month and I'm starting to think about my book list... I've been browsing your literature posts to get some suggestions, and I can't decide where to start! Any good recommendations for some great vacation books?

Speaking of fairytales...Did you ever hear about The Tales of Beedle the Bard? Wouldn't this book be an amazing treat to read!

D.L. White said...

Hi Chandra! Yes - I would LOVE to get my hands on the Beetle Bard book! I just wonder what is in it!

Hmmm... vacation reading... Well - what genres do you like? (thriller, horror, comedy, classics, fantasy, sci-fi, autobiographies). Myself or my husband have read some of all of those lately.

I like short story collections - especially for work - because typically I can read thru one story in a lunch hour. Then if I don't get back to the book for a few days, it's not like a novel where I have to re-read the previous 10 pages to remember where I left off.

Nachiketa said...


nice write up... check out a foodie's interpretation of the book, Haroun n the Sea of Stories Inspires Vibha's Hoopoe Lemon Cake

The Variable, Crazy Over Desserts - Nachiketa
Catch me on facebook @ Crazy Over Desserts